Review: Qantas international WiFi

Selected Qantas flights to and from Asia offer fast free WiFi, but only for part of the journey...

By David Flynn, September 6 2023
Review: Qantas international WiFi

Passengers on most Qantas flights to and from Singapore, Bali, Jakarta and Manila can now enjoy fast free WiFi – but there’s a catch, with the WiFi available only during those parts of the flight which are over Australia.

That’s because unlike most airlines, Qantas isn’t using a global satellite system with worldwide coverage.

Instead, Qantas is still relying on the same two NBN Sky Muster satellites which power Qantas’ domestic WiFi service, and the Sky Muster footprint is focussed on Australia.

The footprint of the Sky Munster satellite which powers Qantas WiFi.
The footprint of the Sky Munster satellite which powers Qantas WiFi.

This means while your international flight is above Australia you can expect WiFi to the same standard as most domestic Qantas flights; but once your plane leaves the Australian coastline behind, you can also wave goodbye to WiFi.

As frequent flyers can attest, “we’re still in Australia” is often a large portion of the journey to Asia.

For example, on the daily flight QF81 from Sydney to Singapore almost half of the eight-hour trip is spent over Australia.

Many Qantas flights between the east coast capitals and Singapore will now have WiFi access while they're over Australia.
Many Qantas flights between the east coast capitals and Singapore will now have WiFi access while they're over Australia.

And if you’re flying from Sydney or Melbourne to Bali, two-thirds of the trip falls within Qantas’ Australian WiFi coverage zone.

There’s another caveat before you can get connected above the clouds: your flight must be on a WiFi-enabled Qantas Boeing 737 or Airbus A330-200 domestic jet. This rules out the Airbus A380 and longer-range A330-300s, as well as the Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

Here are the initial overseas routes for Qantas WiFi on international flights:

  • Sydney-Singapore
  • Sydney-Denpasar (Bali)
  • Sydney-Jakarta 
  • Sydney-Manila
  • Melbourne-Singapore 
  • Melbourne-Denpasar (Bali)
  • Brisbane-Singapore 
  • Brisbane-Port Moresby
  • Perth-Singapore

(Routes where the aircraft don’t spend as much time within the Sky Muster satellite’s coverage zone – such as to New Zealand – have understandably been left off the list.)

You can expect the cabin crew to make an announcement is WiFi is available on your flight, and if so, you can even begin using it while the aircraft is on the ground all the way until it moves beyond satellite coverage.

So what’s the WiFi experience like on this handful of popular Qantas international flights?

It’s exactly the same as you’re already enjoying on domestic Qantas Boeing 737 and A330-200 flights, because it uses exactly the same system.

Connect to the Qantas Free Wi-Fi hotspot on your laptop, tablet or phone and click the big red Connect button.

Getting online with Qantas' 'international' WiFi service.
Getting online with Qantas' 'international' WiFi service.

After watching a short video advertisement, you’re online.

We happily clocked download speeds around 10-15Mbps: that’s more than enough for streaming video or music, let along basic email and Web browsing, and much faster than what’s currently available on the global satellite-based network of most airlines

(Things are different when you’re using a ground-based network, as is commonly the case in North America for example.)

Upload speeds for Qantas WiFi tend to be clipped around the 1Mbps mark, so file uploads and heavy cloud computing access will need some patience.

Qantas also offers complimentary access to The Australian and The Monthly plus a free 7-day trial offer for the Paramount+ streaming service.

Up next: global ‘broadband in the sky’

So when will Qantas roll out worldwide WiFi coverage to keep you connected from start to finish on almost any international flight?

That’s now expected in 2025, as the airline has committed to fast and free WiFi for every passenger on its Project Sunrise A350 during their non-stop marathons to London and New York.

Qantas will rely on the new high-speed ViaSat-3 network, which uses three advanced satellites to blanket the globe.

The first launched in May 2023 to blanket the Americas, although Qantas will have to wait until the final Australia-Pacific bird is launched in late 2024 to complete the ViaSat-3 constellation and offer a global footprint.

The trio of ViaSat-3 satellites will blanket the Earth.
The trio of ViaSat-3 satellites will blanket the Earth.

However, the airline says it might be in a position to roll out WiFi earlier to other aircraft in its long-range fleet.

“The plan is that the A350s will have WiFi, but the plan is that we will also retrofit our A380s, A330s and 787s” Qantas CEO-in-waiting Vanessa Hudson told Executive Traveller in February this year in her role as Chief Financial Officer.

Hudson said it was “very probable” the ViaSat-3 WiFi could make its debut on flights ahead of the A350, with the airline soon to begin drawing up its “retrofit  program.”

Then-CEO Alan Joyce cautioned these upgrades would of course mean that aircraft would be taken out of service, at a time when the airline was aiming to boost capacity to the fullest “so we just need to work through that.”

Staying in touch on Project Sunrise flights

Joyce has previously described ViaSat’s fast Ka-band satellite technology to Executive Traveller as being “perfect for Project Sunrise.”

Qantas opted not to fit its international Airbus A330, A380 and Boeing 787 fleet with significantly slower Ku-band kit because "we don’t want a sub-standard product” – and once the ViaSat-3 birds were in the air “we’d have to rip it out and put on new antennas (and) new equipment.”

“The (Ku-band) product is terrible, we think, and we’ve tried it” Joyce reflected, adding that “you certainly can’t have everybody streaming” content at the same time due to the relatively narrow satellite bandwidth which has to be shared across all passengers.

ViaSat claims the ViaSat-3 system will deliver “a minimum 10-15 megabits per second” to every passenger’s smartphone, tablet or laptop – even if they’re got multiple devices.

The company already has an Australian connection in place, with a Telstra fibre-optic network providing a high-speed and high-capacity gateway for the satellite signals.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1201

The WiFi debacle with QF is another example of AJ making excuses when he really just didn't want to spend the money.  Both Emirates and Singapore Airlines have had WiFi for years.  

I just got back from a trip to Europe with SIngapore Airlines which now offers free WiFi using the supposedly inferior Ku band to everyone and the system worked perfectly acceptably.  They have the system set to restrict streaming which is fine; most are more interested in being able to check emails, read online news or use social media such as Facebook etc.

Even if the claims about Ku being poor were true, surely that wouldn't have stopped QF installing it on their planes but restricting it to F,J and W passengers and maybe high tier passengers travelling in Y.

QF claims some weird superiority because it will eventually have what it says is a better system.  This is a complete logical nonsense.  By time QF eventually does install WiFi, SQ, EK etc will match them because they will be installing second generation systems on new deliveries too and probably also retrofitting the newer technologies to their existing fleets.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Nov 2011

Total posts 28

The first Viasat 3 satellite which launched in April and had a major malfunction extending a critical part for connecting to the ground stations and is likely a 700M USD write off.  The European launch is still scheduled for early next year but the launch partner Ariane is no longer able to provide the lift so it is likely to be delayed.  I'm not sure about the real issues with Ku band technology, I recall in 2016 on a American 777 to LAX from Sydney I was streaming youtube videos in HD somewhere halfway through the flight, I was quite impressed.  Qatar's 'super wifi' on the 777s and a350s is fantastic, which I believe uses Inmarsat and has been around for many years.  AJ has been very, very conservative re CAPEX and I think this was a real reason for the technology not to be adopted sooner.  Project Sunrise seems to be a bit of a pet project for him so unsurprised wifi would be introduced then.  I hope VH has the backing to make some serious investments beyond fleet renewal as there are so many very busy lounges which are easily 6-7 years overdue for an overhaul.  

22 Feb 2019

Total posts 7

With the Viasat 3 failure it seems the most logical solution would be to go with Starlink Aviation. From what I've read about the cost is between US$12,500 to US$25,000/month depending on airframe but it's likely airlines with multiple planes on the Starlink internet service would get further discounts. It should be ready by 2025 as well with testing currently underway. That would give Qantas worldwide coverage and from all reports the fastest internet speeds from Starlink LEO Satellites which will only get faster as more reach orbit.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 366

Ah Qantas. Always playing catch-up and never leading the industry.

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Review: Qantas international WiFi